Racing is often measured by the unexpected. This or that happened and few, if any, saw it coming or could stack the available information to even imagine it.

As the 2023 NASCAR season opens, there have already been some unexpected incidents. Stenhouse winning Daytona…? Kyle Busch winning so early with a new car and team…? Byron sweeping stages and the win at Vegas…? Elliott out from a snowboard accident…?

These were unlikely events if placing bets but are now in the books as fact.

However, these new events for the new season were set aside as Martinsville Speedway and NASCAR took time to remember an event that eclipses the unexpected. The October, 2022 last lap “Hail Melon” accelerated wall ride by Ross Chastain to make the Championship Four is that event.

On Tuesday, March 7th, Chastain returned to Martinsville Speedway. The wall in turns 3 and 4 have been left as they were following the high speed retaining hug of the #1 Moose Camaro. Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell walked with Chastain as they discussed the thoughts, timing and action of that last lap of the 2022 Xfnity 500.

It really wasn’t a planned thing, but it was an “all or nothing” thing as Chastain exited turn two and set things in motion with a full throttle attack on turn three. The impact, he says, was a bit more harsh than anticipated but the car hung on. The tires held. He let go of the steering wheel at one point and exited turn four having to grab the wheel again. He slingshot by Denny Hamlin to take the line a half length or so in front. Ross Chastain grabbed the finish needed to make his way into the “Playoff Four”.

For the effort and the torn up right side of a car, he finished fourth. It was on spot ahead of Hamlin which made the difference as he edged Hamlin out of championship contention. The following week for the final race at Phoenix, Chastain did well with a third place finish after starting back in the pack at 25th. Joey Logano won the race and the season.

NASCAR has since made changes on rules and the accelerated wall hug move is now illegal. It isn’t a new rule but a clarification on safety rulings which encompasses the potential risks of the maneuver to fans and other drivers.

The mid week visit by Ross Chastain was also marked by the removal of a section of the retaining wall in turn three and four. Chastain used a Kubota fork tractor to lift the middle section up and off the track. It will be set aside for later display, possibly even at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. A new section will be placed and the entire turn three and four wall will be repainted and ready when NASCAR returns to Martinsville Speedway in April.

Photo Gallery of Ross Chastain at Martinsville Speedway

One month in and the NASCAR racing season is already throwing oddities at the odds. Changes for 2023 made interesting news leading into the season. The early spotlight was bright on Jimmie Johnson who is coming back with a limited driving season. The new team, Legacy Motor Club, formerly Petty GMS Motorsports, will run Johnson’s #84 Chevy.

Jimmie Johnson and Richard Petty

Johnson’s first run back in the Cup car was Daytona. The attention on Johnson was almost ceremonial as welcomes and interviews took place. The on track racing, however, took over quickly. Crashes and cautions did take a toll but it was still a bit of surprise to see Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. take the win for the small JTG Daugherty racing team.

Ricky Stenhouse, Jr – JTG Daugherty Racing – Daytona 500 winner, 2023

The M&Ms characters exit from the iconic colors of the #18 Gibbs Toyota which also focused attention on the transfer of Kyle Busch to a Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was an off season story. A Busch win was likely in 2023 but, perhaps, not so early on as the second race of the season. Some seat time to get used to the new team would have been expected but Busch put the #8 in Victory Lane at Auto Club.

Kyle Busch notches an early season win in the new #8 with Richard Childress Racing

Is it a surprise, or simply ironic, that William Byron with a Liberty University sponsor wins at Sin City? Granted, the #24 was sporting the Raptor colors for the Pennzoil 400 presented by Jiffy Lube but Byron and Liberty have a long association. The Vegas racing dealt all the cards at Byron as he took the stages and the win.

William Byron takes the checkered, and the stages, at Las Vegas (March 5, 2023)

There are also the questions concerning Chase Elliott. He took a tumble at Vail on a snowboard and is out of the #9 for a while recovering from a broken leg. How long he is out is currently set at 6 races. Josh Berry took the #9 seat at Vegas and will do so for most that Chase is out. IMSA driver Jordan Taylor is tapped to run in Texas for Circuit Of The Americas.

Chase Elliott, out for several races due to a snowboarding injury

If the race count checks, our math has Chase Elliott back in the #9 Chevy at Martinsville. April is a big month for NASCAR in Virginia. Richmond, Bristol (Tennessee, but… yeah…) and Martinsville are on tap. Phoenix, Atlanta and Texas remain for March.

Virginia, however, does not have to wait. Good racing is coming in March. Season openers are on track from Franklin County to Dominion, from Lonesome Pine to Langley, and practically every track with a flag and a gate.

Get those short track tickets for some hot laps before those big NASCAR rigs pull into town. Racing is coming, Virginia. Your support keeps it hot.

Rain in the forecast midweek has not slowed this week of racing. The clouds did throw a shot over the bow at Bristol as they started their racing with the Camping World Series Trucks and the UNOH 200.

The Wednesday night race had Cole Custer up front and minutes before the rain came a lapped driver spun in front of him giving him no place to go. With a damaged truck and the added frustration of the rain, Custer could do little but soak it up. After the delay and the track went green it was Ryan Blaney who came back to win with the #29 on a green-white-checkered finish.

The rain is on tap for today (Thursday 8/20) as well but for the most part should be out for Friday and the weekend. Xfinity and Sprint Cup racing should be fast under fair skies at Bristol.

Weather should not play a big role across the border and a bit to the east as the IMSA TUDOR United SportsCar Championship takes center stage in southside Virginia. Even so, the drivers set to take multiple classes of exotics and sports cars to speed at Virginia International Raceway are equipped to run with the rain. They don’t like it, but they can do it. This showcase event is eye candy for auto and speed enthusiasts and weekend weather looks more like sunscreen than umbrellas.

The following week stock cars and the NASCAR K&N Series roll through VIR. If you love watching the big guns race at Watkins Glen then this is your local fix for NASCAR sanctioned stock car racing on this scenic road course.

Don’t pack up the your race gear just yet. Still to come for Virginia race fans is Richmond International Raceway the weekend of September 12. The final shot at the CHASE is on the line as the lights come on and the green flag drops at Richmond.

October has the CHASE full on and on the historic oval at Martinsville. The folks there are busy lining up a lot of specials and fan experience activities to live up to the history.

Racing is on. Virginia has the speed and all you need is a calendar to mark your races. While your at it, you might as well check the locals at tracks like South Boston, Motor Mile and others to fill out that calendar.

Go racing!

Well, Virginia… Racing is ON!

Martinsville has had their Spring opener. Denny Hamlin won the Cup race. Joey Logano won the day before in trucks.

Bristol is coming up after the post-Easter stop out in Texas. Bristol is the weekend of April 18-19 followed one week later (April 24-25) in Richmond. It is a big bunch of weeks for NASCAR and the big guns in Virginia. Three visits (Martinsvile has run with Bristol and Richmond on the horizon) in the equivalent of one month.

However, April has much more to fill in for racing now and well into the Summer. The short tracks and other courses offer big racing often overshadowed by the “stars” of NASCAR.

South Boston has been racing since March and always serves up a good show. A lot of familiar names have passed laps at South Boston and one returns with some of his NASCAR pals in April. Mixed in with regular schedules of Late Model and other series is the Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown on the 23rd (Thursday before Richmond weekend). Catch a big season at South Boston and get a dose of where NASCAR started.

Motor Mile Speedway in Radford is another of the short tracks in the area with a Summer schedule beginning in May. Late Models, Monster Trucks and drag racing are all ready to run.

Southside, Shenandoah, Lonesome Pine, Langley… Even tracks like Franklin County offer up weekly or regular scheduled racing.

North Carolina tracks also highlight the Summer with tight, fast laps and scraped fenders. From Bowman Gray in Winston-Salem to Caraway (south of Greensboro), Coastal Plains, East Carolina and Hickory the Late Models, Modifieds and more are making the race.

For even more variety to fill your racing plate, check a little spot between Martinsville and South Boston. Just outside of Danville is Virginia International Raceway. From sports cars (SCCA, Tudor, NARRA) to NASCAR (K&N) to motorcycles and more VIR has enough twists and turns and wheels to hold any fan. They even have a new Oak Tree!

Virginia is a hotbed for speed. You don’t have to wait for the TV circus to come around to find it. They are racing on short tracks, paved and dirt, all over the state. Go to Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond but make sure you visit VIR, South Boston and some others and, perhaps, cross the North Carolina border and catch some more.

Just go racing!

California… Don’t the commercials for tourism show a kind of laid back attitude…?

Not at Fontana on race weekend!

Racing was on the level for the bulk of it. Commentary during the race brought out some of the Twitter tension from Bristol as Denny Hamlin and Joey Logano raced close ar points earlier. That all came to a head in the final laps as the two were up front and trading spots. Hamlin went on the outside and got around. Logano went low. Side by side. Logano’s tires were not as fresh. The #22 got loose on the side draft, touched the #11, and put Logano back against the wall and Hamlin shot towards the infield wall. The jolt shook the #11 into the air and around. Denny Hamlin was out of the car afterward without assistance but was immediately place in medical care for back pain.

The latest news from Joe Gibbs Racing is that Hamlin is still in the hospital, alert and being checked further for back issues.

Logano was able to cross the line with a rear damaged #22 for third behind Kyle Busch and Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

Was the wreck a follow up to the tensions that ran through Bristol or a result of two drivers pushing for the win? (more…)

Jimmie Johnson. “J” X 2…

The #48.  4 X2 = 8.

Texas. Pole X 2. Johnson started on the pole two weeks in a row. This one at Texas and the week before at Martinsville.

Texas. Win X 2. Johnson wins from the pole for two straight weeks. Martinsville and again at Texas.

Also like Martinsville, the #2 Miller Lite Dodge of Brad Keselowski was there and in front of Johnson for the lead in the final laps but could not hold against the charging #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet.

Keselowski was up in the front more at Texas than back in Virginia but Johnson was, like Martinsville, holding the lead quite a bit as well and was at the front when it counted. (more…)

Tires. Generally you think about your tires when the number on your inspection sticker and the number on your calendar matches up. It is then you take a quick look at the treads and think they will sneak by one more time or you realize they would hardly be safe hanging from a tree. If the latter is the case, you then mumble some profanity and begin the search for the best deal. Internet, newspaper, friends… Ads and questions… Buy three get one free… all weather or performance…  tread life… Do you want the replacement warranty?

Race drivers don’t have most of these worries. The tires they get are sanctioned so they aren’t shopping the net for the best deal. They do, however, find themselves at some facility testing those very tires that are issued for race day. In some ways you could equate this to comparison shopping as the drivers are out all day with tire stats instead of doing fun stuff at home. (more…)